Salesforce Chatter: Social operating systems emerge on the IT stage

Summary:The next big shift: Intranets, portals, and software suites that are the integrating force of the social fabric for our organizations. This morning's announcement here at Dreamforce today from Salesforce of Chatter, an enterprise-class realization of Facebook and Twitter, is further evidence of the industry's push for social Web capabilities for business activities.

The next big shift: Intranets, portals, and software suites that are the integrating force of the social fabric for our organizations. This morning's announcement here at Dreamforce today from Salesforce of Chatter, an enterprise-class realization of Facebook and Twitter, is further evidence of the industry's push for social Web capabilities for business activities.

Early indications are that Chatter will drive conversation and attention on this subject in enterprise circles very much like Google Wave did for consumer circles (as well as some businesses.)

Of course, a central question is -- given current economic challenges for example -- whether this is what the enterprise world is really looking for right now. However, as I've covered here throughout the year, enterprise social computing has been coming into its own as a significant component of modern business software for a number of reasons lately.

So while adoption numbers vary, it's an increasingly smart bet that not only are social applications moving into the enterprise, but that existing business applications will begin to get more and more social features.

Social Operating Systems and Enterprise 2.0 Adaptation

I often cite Reed's Law as compelling evidence that social systems have a strong innate tendency to create more value that non-social systems. The message: Social business applications are just a more effective model in general for building business value. However announcements like Chatter begin to make this argument less important. That's because it's built right into the Salesforce platform and according to Sam Diaz "will be included in all paid editions of Salesforce CRM and Force.com." In other words, the argument is essentially over when social computing becomes baked into the infrastructure of the enterprise.

This will allow the 135,000+ existing apps built on Force.com to have a unified social environment complete with security and one common social graph as well as consistent, shared collaboration features. This is a major step up from the traditional world of non-social business software, all the more so because it's as much of an infrastructure play as an application play. A comparable response would be to make Microsoft Office more social or perhaps more accurately, the fundamental Google Apps infrastructure. It's also arguable that the new Microsoft SharePoint 2010 is just such a move (creating an enterprise-wide social environment that's also an app platform) that's just not as clearly communicated.

In the end there's a lot to be said -- particularly in the sometimes uncertain realm of enterprise social computing -- about having a secure solution that works across your application environment and is easy to integrate into your existing applications and user environments. And while the Salesforce ecosystem is far from a consistent application environment for most enterprises, which are a complex landscape of legacy systems from dozens of vendors, it highlights the next big shift: Intranets, portals, and software suites that are the integrating force of the social fabric for our organizations.

Chatter is a solid example of the basic features that we'd expect in an Enterprise 2.0 solution and what is increasingly called a 'social operating system':

Breadown of Salesforce Chatter

  • User Profiles This is the foundation of any enterprise social network and contains individual user identity as well as a list of colleagues or followers.
  • Status Updates: This is the basis of sharing information with those that are following you. This is different that more focused collaboration scenarios since it automatically goes out to all your followers. Status updates are useful for ambient capture, distribution, and archival of situational and otherwise largely tacit knowledge.
  • Activity Streams: This is the flow of information that comes primarily from status updates but can also be from bots and other systems designed to detect important business events and insert them into the stream that you watch. The Facebook news feed is an an example of an activity stream. Chatter displays this on the Chatter home page and even intelligently threads responses to status messages, a sorely needed feature in fast moving business environments. Activity streams form an essential knowledge flow that creates actionable collective intelligence over time.
  • Groups: This feature allows workers to self-organize and create their own groups within Salesforce Chatter and share updates and content. Groups are useful for more focused collaborative activity.
  • Feeds: Data flows in social systems and regular IT systems are increasingly embodied in simple streams called feeds. Feed can stream relevant data, real-time status updates and like Google Wave this is not only from people, but also from content and other applications.
  • Social Content: Business information embodied in documents, spreadsheets and presentations can be given a social layer that can alert the entire company when certain changes have been made, usually through activity streams. This is just like how people are notified when new pictures or links are posted on consumer social networks. Developers can use this for any IT application that has access to the social platform and creates much needed situational awareness and vital event notifications in a single, manageable way.

Finally, Salesforce Chatter has APIs to make it easy for developers to wrap social features around their applications and has connections to and active SDK support for Google Apps, Facebook, and Twitter.

Related: Social operating systems are part of the larger story of the emerging Web OS.

All of this highlights some major planning that organizations are going to have to think about as they decide exactly how social their applicatins are going to be. As social computing features get added ad hoc to existing apps and as full blown social operating systems begin to emerge, it's a decision point that more and more organizations will be forced to make.

For my part, I'm waiting for Facebook to realize the big money proposition of doing VPN social networks that seamlessly and safely combine consumer and private social networks in a coherent offering that is compelling to businesses. Unfortunately, the consumer Web 2.0 world doesn't readily understand how to meet enterprise needs or provide the kind of strategic support required, so for now it's left to Salesforce, Microsoft, Oracle, IBM, and dozens of startups to address.

Additional Reading: A breakdown of the rapidly growing Enterprise 2.0 application market.

Are you seeing social features creep into your enterprise software? Do the social features of SharePoint 2010 and Salesforce Chatter fill you with trepidation or opportunity?

Topics: Operating Systems, Collaboration, Emerging Tech, Enterprise Software, Social Enterprise

About

Dion Hinchcliffe is an expert in information technology, business strategy, and next-generation enterprises. He is currently Chief Strategy Officer at the digital business transformation firm Adjuvi. A veteran of enterprise IT, Dion has been working for two decades with leading-edge methods to bridge the widening gap between business and... Full Bio

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